published Friday, January 31st, 2014

Lingering ice still makes roads dangerous, Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith says

Annabelle DiStasio gets a push from her father, Kevin DiStasio, while playing with her friends, Claudia Finlay, left, and Arden Beach, middle, on Tuesday in Chattanooga.
Annabelle DiStasio gets a push from her father, Kevin DiStasio, while playing with her friends, Claudia Finlay, left, and Arden Beach, middle, on Tuesday in Chattanooga.
Photo by Erin O. Smith.
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Should schools be open today?

TODAY’S SCHOOL CLOSINGS

• Athens City Schools

• Bledsoe County Schools

• Bradley County Schools

• Catoosa City Schools

• Cleveland City Schools

• Chickamauga City Schools

• Chattooga County Schools

• Grundy County Schools

• Hamilton County Schools

• Marion County Schools

• McMinn County Schools

• Meigs County Schools

• Polk County Schools

• Rhea County Schools

• Sequatchie County Schools

• Walker County Schools

• Whitfield County Schools

Chattanooga Youth and Family Development Centers (rec centers) will open from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. today to accommodate kids while school is closed.

TODAY’S FORECAST

Predictions call for sunshine today and highs in the mid- and upper 40s. Tonight will be mostly clear with lows in the upper 20s. On Saturday, clouds will increase but most of the day should be dry. A few showers could develop late in the day and into Saturday night. On Sunday, scattered showers will develop and highs will be in the 50s.

Source: WRCB-TV

For Chattanooga mom Amy Clarke and her neighbors, the past three days have been one tricky juggling act.

A near-week of snow days has meant upended work schedules, collaborative parenting efforts and dizzying levels of coordination for her and for parents across the region.

On Thursday, Clarke’s day involved taking her 10-year-old daughter, Campbell, to work with her while leaving her husband with their 7-year-old son, Sullivan. A few hours later, she picked up the kids — plus three or four more from the North Chattanooga neighborhood — to watch for a while before handing them off to another friend.

Neighbors’ cellphones have buzzed with text messages as they tried to strategize their days. And when Clarke’s phone lit up Thursday with the news that school would be closed again today, the chain of texts fired up again.

“Right away I just started sending 10 more texts, just trying to figure out how tomorrow is going to work,” said Clarke as she watched her kids and some of their friends at the Chattanooga Public Library. “I’m just thankful that we have got each other and that work is flexible, because we have no family in town.”

The snow began to melt in 40-degree temperatures Thursday but some parents took to social media, aggravated and baffled that most schools across Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia would be closed yet another day — especially as forecasts called for today’s highs to reach into the upper 40s.

Many told the Times Free Press they were having to take vacation days from work, or were struggling to find last-minute child care.

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith and other regional school officials received plenty of flak from parents for not closing schools before Tuesday morning, when an unexpected snow triggered school and business closures, paralyzed traffic and left some students stranded on buses or at schools into the evening.

But Smith said the decision for today’s closures was a no-brainer after maintenance staff toured the district’s 75 schools.

“At most schools we are still seeing very hazardous, icy conditions on roads leading to schools, in the parking lots, on the sidewalks, or other areas on campus,” Smith said Thursday. “It’s impractical to expect our maintenance staff to get them all in the shape [to] feel like we can operate safely by the morning.”

Plus, he said, the system needs to consider students traveling across town to charter schools and teachers who may have their own dicey commutes.

Today’s temperature bump will come on the heels of another subfreezing night that could mean roads will be glazed with ice this morning.

Smith said he also spoke with Hamilton County Emergency Services Director Tony Reavley, who reported that many back roads would still be hazardous when buses would need to run. It’s still icy in areas along Highway 58 and in Ooltewah, Soddy-Daisy and elsewhere, school officials have reported.

“You can’t just think in terms of your neighborhood,” Smith said. “It’s a countywide situation.”

Despite the inconvenience, Clarke agreed it’s better to be safe than sorry — especially after the events earlier this week.

“I understand you have to take into account all the county roads,” Clarke said. “It was really scary getting everyone home on Tuesday, that’s for sure. It’s really fine, you just have to figure it out.”

Hamilton County still has four allotted snow days left before the system will need to add make-up days, the superintendent said. Tuesday’s early dismissal did not count as a missed day.

While Smith has said that the school system needs to rethink how it handles situations like Tuesday’s, he said that the day of chaotic gridlock, stranded students and criticism from parents for not closing school earlier did not factor into his decision about today’s classes.

“That day, the big issue was getting children home quickly,” Smith said. “Today is a different situation, and children are safely home already. We have to ask whether students can ride or drive to school, if faculty can get to school, if people can be on campus without being at risk.”

Maintenance crews will work through the weekend to clear parking lots and to ensure all heating and plumbing systems are working after the persistent freezing temperatures.

Annette Smith spent the day between the Tennessee Aquarium and the library with her three grandchildren — Lamisha, Mia and Julian — while their mother worked. With Battle Academy closed, Smith figured the family might do the same today.

“The streets are pretty clear, but I think it’s a good idea to cancel,” she said. “It’s the end of the week. We probably need to start them fresh-minded after all of this.”

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.

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